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Follow Christ? Then you can’t hate Trump

I know, I know.  He’s racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic…  Everything Christ wasn’t, everything we as followers of Christ absolutely should NOT be, practice, or endorse.  But we as followers of Christ and people in relationship with YHWH are held to higher standards of behavior, and we are called to love the unlovable and pray for even the most vile of political leaders.

It starts way back in Exodus.  When the Lord is handing down the law to Moses for the Israelites, he says, “Don’t curse God; and don’t damn your leaders” (Ex. 22:28, The Message).  The leaders are put in place for a purpose.  We like to think that that purpose is single-handedly to bring back a revival that will hasten God’s kingdom on earth, starting with the good ol’ U.S. of A, especially since we like to layer a bunch of religiosity on our nationalism.  (Yes, nationalism; we’re shifting away from patriotism to nationalism currently, which usually leads to mass persecutions and a strong “us versus them” mindset, even when the “them” are fellow citizens.)  But what if there’s a higher purpose?

The writer of 1 Timothy exhorts his readers:  “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2:1-2, NIV).  Hold it!  What???  We have to pray for leaders we don’t like?!  Isn’t that just a disturbing, uncomfortable thought?  But there’s a reason for it – it’s for our own good.  The Greek actually reiterates this idea of “peace,” as the Greek for “quiet” here is more of a meditative silence – peaceful.  Sounds like a pretty nice life, huh, being free from conflict?

In writing to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul instructs, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1, NIV).  Similarly, Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority…” (1 Peter 2:13, NIV).  Honestly, it just keeps getting harder to hear, doesn’t it?  The idea that God established – put in place, orchestrated, whatever word you want to use – this incoming administration feels like a betrayal to how Jesus himself taught us to live.  And the fact we’re supposed to submit to it…?  It seems we’re put in an impossible situation.

But maybe it’s not.  Maybe the Lord’s purpose isn’t to place the incoming president in a position to bring about the peace we crave himself, but to force us as Christ-followers to take a stand that can bring our eschatological hope closer to us.

It is easy to see Trump as “the enemy,” but, again, Jesus is clear on how we’re to treat our enemies.  He says in Matthew 5:44ff to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  I think it’s clear that we’re not to pray for their destruction, though it’s certainly tempting.

When I was in Div School, I did a text analysis on this passage in which I sought to answer the question, “Who is my enemy?” (my little play on the question the expert in the law asked Jesus in the intro to the parable of the Good Samaritan).  There are nine words for “enemy” in Hebrew, specifying particular enemies.  In Greek there’s only one.  However, Jesus spoke Aramaic, which is very similar to Hebrew, so I wondered, Which word for “enemy” did he use?  You know, so I could know exactly which enemy(ies) for whom to pray.  Well, it was a good idea at the time, but truth was, hours of research later, I didn’t have my answer; no one knew, so I had to rely on the Greek.  Through the work, I came to realize that it doesn’t matter.  Who cares to which enemies Jesus was referring?  At the end of the day, we’re to pray for all our enemies.  So I did.  I didn’t have personal enemies at the time, but in the post-9/11 months, we could certainly count Osama bin Laden and those in Al Qeada as our nation’s enemies.  So they are for whom I prayed.  Wanna know something awesome I discovered?  When you pray for your enemies, your heart about them changes, and you no longer think of them as your enemies.  They don’t necessarily change, but you do.

If we’re going to trust God’s message, then the incoming administration is here to fulfill some part of God’s purpose.  We don’t know what that is; we have to trust without seeing the big picture.  At the same time, the word of God is clear about what we are called to do:  We are to pray for our leaders.  Further, we are to be advocates for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, fighting for justice for them, because we are all at some time strange people in a strange land.  The first century writers were instructing their fellow believers against the backdrop of unimagined persecutions at the hands of the Roman Empire, a time when churches were meeting in homes and believers were hoping not to be martyred for being one of “them.”  White Christians most likely will not suffer personally throughout the new presidential administration, but there’s the disturbing potential for our friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow church-goers who aren’t White Christians to suffer extreme persecutions.  It is up to us to be loud, vocal advocates for these people who, like us, are Americans and who, like us, may also be Christians.

The cross offers us free grace, but it’s not cheap.  We need to extend that grace to all, no matter the cost.

Learn From History or Repeat It

In the grand scheme of world history, eighty years is like a blink.  In the youth of our country, eighty years is a bit more substantial, a full one-third of the U.S.’s life as an independent country.  It was about 75-80 years ago when the Fascist governments were beginning their aggression towards their European neighbors, aggression which would become World War II.

As most students of U.S. history know, the U.S. didn’t enter the war until very early 1942 following the unprovoked bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on 7 December 1941.  Yet, prior even to this date, even before 1939 when the war would begin, the U.S. was persecuting some of her own citizens out of fear.  They don’t usually teach this in U.S. History, not even AP history; they didn’t when I was in school, anyway.

As Fascism grew in Italy under Mussolini‘s dictatorship, the U.S. government began to incarcerate Italian-American men and Italian immigrants in our country out of fear that they’d be sympathetic to Fascist Italy.  The government shipped these men by cattle cars (Cattle cars!  Sound familiar?  It was the Nazis’ preferred mode of prisoner transport, too.) to prisons in Montana and New York.  In doing so, they split up families, leaving thousands of women and children to survive without their primary bread-winner during the continuing dark days of the Great Depression.

As the war continued, especially following the attack on Pearl Harbor, German nationals who were stuck in the country because of the war and German-Americans (naturalized or citizens by birth) were monitored closely and over 10,000 of these were incarcerated.  Some of those citizens had one or both parents who had immigrated from Germany.  They were still citizens, though, regardless of their bloodlines.  These Americans lost their homes and their livelihoods, and many families were split up with children being sent to orphanages.

We know, perhaps, about the incarceration and relocation of the Japanese-Americans the most.  The government forcibly relocated thousands of citizens of Japanese descent from California to internment camps in the central United States, believing that they would aid our Japanese enemies otherwise.  Whole families were forced to leave their homes and jobs and live in crowded conditions, surrounded by chain link and barbed wire, with armed guards watching them around the clock.

Some of these prisoners were held until 1948, three years after the war had ended.  A fairly vast number of them had relatives serving in the armed forces, fighting the enemies without; I know one guy of German descent who served with honor in the Pacific Theater in the 1st Cavalry division of the US Army.

And now there’s talk during this election year of wanting to imprison Muslims.  Who in history imprisoned people based on their religion?  Yes, Adolf Hitler, arguably one of the vilest dictators in world history (and there are some doozies!).  And now we see how the U.S., just like Hitler, imprisoned people based on their heritage – and fear.  Are we as a country going to repeat this embarrassing, unjust bit of history?  I think about my Muslim friends and my friends and neighbors from the Middle East.  They’re Americans with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities we all hold dear.  My next-door neighbor is almost 90 years old, and he doesn’t speak of his time in the Iraqi army nearly as much as he does his late wife, his grandchildren, and his Master’s degree from one of our state universities.  But would a government run by fear know that, or would it just see the color of his skin?

We as Americans need to stop listening to the fearmongering, need to stop letting those political earworms manipulate how we think.  We need to step back, reassess, and recognize that we are dealing with people here – people with families, homes, and jobs.  This isn’t about “Us versus Them”; we’re all “us.”

If I’d Been Born in 1950

If I’d been born in 1950, I would have been 18 in 1968, heading off to college.  I’d have been able to vote in that year’s presidential election, and I’d have voted for whichever candidate would have gotten us out of Vietnam fastest.  And I’d have greatly disliked my government.

I probably would have taken part in protests, calling for an end to the war.  Instead of being WWII and Vietnam-era veterans, my Grandpa and Dad would’ve fought in WWI and WWII, respectively.  My other Grandpa was born between the wars – too young for the last one, too old for the next one – but he served his four years in the Army, too.  Coming from a family in which military service is expected and applauded, I see myself, regardless of when I was born, having the same admiration and respect for those who serve, fight, and sacrifice.  Even at 18, I knew the members of the US Military are ultimately answerable to the Commander-in-Chief, the president of the US, and they have to obey his decisions, whether they like them or not.  There have been presidents in our history whose desire to engage in war has put troops in harm’s way that the presidents themselves would shy from, and men and women who have died because of a president’s ego or posturing.  There still are.

I’d be watching the boys with whom I grew up heading off to war.  These two in the Navy as enlisted personnel.  This friend using the education deferment, but he would graduate before the war’s end and be drafted if he didn’t enlist.  My cousin trying out the education deferment, but getting drafted after flunking out after his first year.  Or maybe the fear of being drafted would have made him buckle down – more studying, less partying.  His birthday is early enough in the year that the draft would have caught him, lottery or no.  This friend claiming a conscientious objection based on religious reasons.   This other friend – my first crush – being rejected for service because of being “a deviant”; he’s gay.

So, while I would have protested, I would not have taken my feelings out on those who fight.  After all, they are not the ones who declared war; they’re just the ones who have to fight the battles, risking family, mental health, body parts, and even their very own lives.  A friend from high school once said, “I support our troops.  I support them so much I want them to come home where it’s safe.”  If I’d been born in 1950, my spittle, either literal or figurative, would have expressed my contempt for the war-mongering government, but my words would have expressed my deep respect for those brave men and women who laid it all on the line, simply because their government told them to do so.

What Robin William’s Death Can Teach Us About Depression

Robin Williams died this week, apparently by suicide. I had learned during my undergraduate studies that he suffered from bipolar disorder and would use it to benefit his comedy, riding out the manic episodes to create exceptional improvisational comedy, both in his stand-up routines and in his screen roles. I admired that about him, how he turned a psychological disorder into something positive, useful, and, yes, very funny.

Robin was my favorite comic actor. (I adore Bill Cosby for his low-key comedy and tell-it-like-it-is bluntness.) But Robin… There was just something about him. Maybe it was that early admiration. Or his ability to play a variety of different roles really well. He was special. And yet, we discovered his dark side this week as the cause of death hit the airwaves. We learned that he’d entered rehab earlier this summer, a wise move for anyone struggling with addiction issues. Perhaps it’s the part of me that’s really fascinated with forensic psychology and behavioral analysis, but it seems odd that he’d want to improve his life through rehab if he was so depressed he was ready to end it all.

Yet, I realize that a depressed person can choose to end his life with very little warning and notice. Sure, often there are signs. For someone who had struggled for so long with depression, though, suicide looked like the only viable alternative. Robin’s critics slammed him for killing himself. I’m sure his family – his wife especially – are going through their own personal circle of hell in wake of Robin’s choice. Yet, sloughing all that away, a major positive of Robin’s death is, it brought the issue of depression front-and-center in America’s consciousness.

Contrary to what I’ve heard and read, depression isn’t something you just “get over,” nor is it a purely spiritual condition. Plenty of people of faith suffer from depression. I’m evidence that a person of strong faith can pray and pray for someone to be healed of an affliction, but has to accept that God has a different answer and a different plan from my own. People who are sad can get over sadness. People who are grieving can move through that journey to something like happiness again. People can even go through periods of what looks like depression based on circumstances of life. These are all instances that look very much like depression, but that are temporary.

Robin Williams, like so many other people, had very real, clinical depression. This isn’t a choice. This isn’t something you “get over.” It’s not a spiritual condition. This is a chemical problem in the brain that has to be medicated. The treatments are varied. Some people are able to treat depression successfully with some lifestyle changes, like regular exercise; change of scenery; and talk therapy. Others require daily medication to maintain an even mood. Still others are so severely depressed – we’re talking in-the-therapist’s-office-with-a gun-to-their-head depressed – that only the most radical of treatments will get them to where antidepressants even work.

Depressed brain comparison

A PET scan of the brain of someone with depression compared to someone without it

Depression is a disease.  There’s some correlation between depression and low serotonin reuptake in the brain.  Bottom line is, when someone has depression, their brain – that organ in our heads – is sick.  Why wouldn’t we find ways of treating it?  If the heart is diseased, we treat it, right?  We don’t think anything of a diabetic taking insulin, because their pancreas isn’t working the way it should.  There’s no stigma at all to taking inhaled steroids for asthma.  So why do we think that someone with depression – a disease of the brain – should just pray more or exercise more or “get over it”?

My best friend is one of those who have to take antidepressants on a daily basis. He can survive without his medication, but his moods will swing wildly. The antidepressants help him maintain more of an even keel. (I intentionally refer to his medication as “antidepressant” as opposed to by its name, because I don’t want to forget that his depression is a part of him.) Bobby goes through funks, even on his meds, but they don’t last long, and we can discuss and deal with them. Because he’s a valuable person who God created and loves (nevermind the fact that I happen to like the guy), it’s a no-brainer that I’m willing to enter into his depression with him for as long as it lasts – but I have to know about it first.  I asked him one time how he’d kill himself if it ever got that bad.  He told me, and I said, “Call me and wait, and I’ll come with you.”  I figure, 5 hours stuck with me in a car, and we can get through anything and everything.

Robin Williams’ death is making us talk about something that we’d rather just push aside and forget – depression.  I’ve never heard of anyone raising funds for depression awareness.  The awareness ribbon is kelly green, and we should start sporting one for those who we love who are battling this disease in silence.  The people I’ve met who are depressed are some of the strongest people I know, because each day they get up and move on, dealing with that day or the next step to the bathroom or whatever they have to do to get to the next whatever.  Even in their funks, they work and love and give something of themselves to others.  And each day, they find a reason to keep living.

If you’re dealing with unexplained sadness, hopelessness, disturbed appetite, disturbed sleep; or if you are thinking about hurting or killing yourself, PLEASE tell someone – anyone! – or call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

No True Altrusim

Our Advent got off to the most amazing start today!  My family and I were heading home after spending Thanksgiving with my parents and visiting my grandparents, and we were on the off-ramp of an exit to get gas.  We’re sitting at the light when I spot a panhandler.  You know the type – scruffy beard, worn-out clothes, cardboard sign.  He was working the section of the intersection to our left.  I thought about the manna bag I had in the car that my older daughter had made in GAs, and I was feeling a bit frustrated that we had the means to help this guy out at least a little bit, but we’d be in the center turn lane getting back onto the interstate.  Then God cut into this little moment of my history.

The light was longer than I’ve ever experienced before at this ramp.  (Definitely a God thing!)  I looked up, and this man was beginning to work the shoulder close to us.  I said to Peter, “Quick!  Get the manna bag and pass it to Mary.”  Then I pushed the button to put Mary’s window down and said, “You’re up, sweetie.”  She handed the bag to this beggar, he walked off, and I put the window back up.  I asked her later how it felt doing that, and she said, “It felt good.”  As for me, I felt some kind of good that I’ve never experienced before, and I decided that must be what it feels like when your “heart grows three sizes.”

I think doing this will always feel good, so there will be some unintentional reward in it for me, but that’s not why I’d want to keep doing it.  We’re looking for other ways to help people on the cheap, and it’s even better if we can do it anonymously.  What ideas do you have for helping the less fortunate?

New Trend in Social Networking?

Friendship

Friendship (Photo credit: Iguanasan)

It starts simply enough.  You’re hanging out on Twitter or Facebook, responding to posts, chatting with people, and just enjoying connecting with people who may live across town or across the world.  The friendship starts online, but then develops to the point where you’d dare anyone to say it isn’t real.  Perhaps you can laugh with this person or even call them up in the middle of the night when things are going wrong.  You may call and end up speaking to their spouse or child, and vice versa.  The connection grows.  In some cases you may send a text meant just for your friend that gets intercepted by her teenage son and embarrasses the heck out of him.  (Oh, good times!)

Then you have an opportunity to meet.  This is especially valuable when your friends and you live states away from each other.  Last year, a friend from New York (we live in North Carolina) had to drive home at the last minute from her Florida vacation due to weather-related flight cancellations.  She needed a place to stop overnight, and without thinking, I offered her mom, son and her beds for the night.  Their visit was way too short, but I knew they were ready to get home.

When your online friends live in-state, then you have better opportunities to see each other on a more regular basis and become real-life friends.  This brings me to what I’m seeing as a new trend…

Once your online friends become your real-life friends, then you want to integrate them into your real life.  You want them to meet your family, and you want to meet theirs.  It reminds me of how, when we’re children, we’re so proud of both our parents and our friends that we want to introduce them.  We love them both, and we want our friends to meet our awesome, loving parents, and we want our parents to meet our way cool friends.  We want to know that part of our friends that exists away from just us.

I have a friend with whom I’ve been spending some time this Summer, and this friend happens to have a daughter the same age as my older daughter.  They’ve become great friends, and Bobby‘s daughter has even adopted my toddler as her baby sister.  Likewise, my toddler hears my friend’s name and says his daughter’s name.  (Got all that?  It’s confusing without names.)  He’s become like an uncle to my girls, especially since their blood uncle never contacts them.

The time has come for Bobby and his daughter to meet my family, and for my girls and me to meet his family.  Last Thursday, I met Bobby’s mom.  I was understandably nervous, but Bobby assured me his mom would love me.  I’m not sure I’d quite go that far after just one meet and a few posts back and forth on Facebook, but we do get along quite well and are already making plans to get together again, probably with my girls along.

Likewise, Bobby and his daughter may soon have the opportunity to meet my family.  Bobby’s not at all nervous about it, which surprises me, given he’ll be meeting a lot more of my family than I met of his.  Honestly, I’ll be a little nervous about it, too.  It’ll be fine, and we’re going to have a fun time.  We have reached the point where we’re saying, “You’re a special part of my life, and I want you to meet some other important people, too.”

Have you had an online friendship move toward real life?  What did that look like for you?

Gazelle Intensity or Lion’s Determination?

Deutsch: Grant-Gazelle (Gazella granti) beim F...

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever watched a nature show on National Geographic or Discovery Channel?  Or maybe, like me, you grew up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  You’ve seen big cats chasing tasty morsels, like gnus, wildebeests and gazelles.  The prey runs like hell.  Their whole focus is getting away from this animal – lion, tiger, cheetah – that wants to eat them.  They are intense on escaping.

Dave Ramsey says to approach your debt snowball with that same intensity.  Look at it.  Those creditors are following you, ready to devour you with those high interest rates and the incessant calls when you get just a month behind on your payments.  Go wildly crazy, doing whatever it takes to get out of debt.  We had that gazelle intensity, and we quickly knocked out over $4,000 of our $11,500 in debt.

The frustrating part for me is, now I feel like I’m losing my gazelle intensity and have moved to a lion’s determination.  An African proverb I saw on a forum one time goes something like this:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows it must be faster than the slowest moving member of the herd, or it’s going to get eaten.  Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up knowing it must be faster than the slowest moving gazelle in the herd, or it’s going to starve.  Either way, when the sun comes up, you’d better hit the ground running.

The gazelle spends its days hypervigilant.  If I know something is going to sneak up and try to eat me, then I’m going to be constantly alert, constantly ready to run or defend myself.  After a while, I’d imagine that gets exhausting.  But what about the lion?  The lion runs after the gazelle, catches it, either eats it or drags it back to the pride, and then takes a nap.  The lion must be determined to hunt and catch prey lest it starve, but it also has opportunities to relax and rest.

We’ve lost our intensity, but not our determination.  We’re letting ourselves have some fun.  Instead of tossing all of our money into our debt snowball, we’re giving ourselves permission to use some of Peter‘s commissions to enjoy date nights.  Dave says to put all gifted money into the debt snowball, but I treated myself to a new dress and shoes (took advantage of some amazing deals in the process).  This is OK; it’s likely the only money I’ll spend on new clothes for myself all year.  And, yes, I’m probably justifying, but Peter and I haven’t had regular date nights in ages, so the idea of being able to go out, just the two of us, is pretty attractive.

We found some debts about which we had forgotten (but they’re genuine debts). And there were some other debts I thought we had that we didn’t, and yet others which were forgiven.  I’m grateful for those last two, and I’m grateful for the plan we have in place to address the first.  We should be able to be debt-free by this time next year, alongside having the first part of Baby Step 3 completed.

And the Money Kept Rolling In

English: The Tree of Life at Disney's Animal K...

Image via Wikipedia

When the money keeps rolling in, you don’t ask questions…”  So asserts Che in Evita.  We’ve got some money rolling in, and we’re doing nothing BUT asking questions.  First came tax filing weekend.  Last year I decided that, with the online tools available, it surely can’t be that hard to do our own taxes.  Instructions and online assists, and the math is pretty basic.  On top of that, it means saving the $400.00 that most local tax preparers charge.  OK, so it’s a lot of time, but it IS $400.00 staying in our pockets.  This past Saturday, I got all my business paperwork done and chose to use H & R Block‘s free online filing software through the IRS website.  It was soooooo easy to use!  No, no one’s paying me to say that.  The form is very user-friendly and I didn’t have to calculate much of anything.  It also keeps a ticker of your refund or debt, and our refund numbers kept going higher and higher.  I looked at it and said, “That’s not right.  That’s too much!”

I got to the end (in under two hours!) and announced that everyone would be happy with this year’s refund.  The first thing Peter asked was, “Is there enough to go to Universal?”  I replied, “Oh yeah.  We could go on a VERY nice trip to Universal – after we’ve wiped out our debt snowball and saved up for it.”

And that right there is the cold, hard evidence of how Financial Peace University has changed our lives.  Last year, we got our refund and immediately made reservations for a Walt Disney World vacation.  We were content to continue making monthly payments in exchange for seven days of fun in the “happiest place on Earth.”  Thing is, though, that, looking back, I had regrets.  Sure, we had fun and made some good memories, but how much better would those memories have been if we’d been able to clear our debts first and save up for the trip!  We rushed it, because my mom kept talking about taking our older daughter to Disney World, and we were afraid that she’d take the joy of her first trip away from us.

So, looking at this money that will soon be coming to us, the question is, What will we do with it?  The temptations are many and great – landscape the yard, buy a new HD flat-screen TV, replace our garage door, go to Universal Studios.  My Free Spirit husband would jump on any one of those.  I Corinthians 10:13 promises that God will not lead us to more temptation than we can bear, and God will give us a way out if we find ourselves in a tempting situation.  For Peter, God provided me to help lead him away from temptations, and I rely on God, because those things would be nice, I’ll admit.  So I’ve made plans for it – squirrel some away for savings.  Set some aside to replace the battery and tire on my Pontiac so I can sell it.  And then… The debt snowball.  That money will make a pretty big dent in it, which is reason to celebrate.  (Can we say “no more credit card debt”?)  In fact, we are confident that we can wipe out our debt snowball by the end of next year on the outside.  That’s exciting to me!  Then we can really start saving.

So, after relishing the thoughts of what it’ll be like to be out of debt and actually losing sleep from the endorphin rush (that’s some heady stuff there!), I was contentedly willing to wait for our refunds to be deposited into our accounts.

Then Monday, we heard our mail carrier beeping her horn twice, her way of letting us know that we have a package.  My older daughter and I went out to retrieve our mail, and not only did I have a case of soap, but we had some cards and there was a small notecard sized envelope to us with our church’s address as the return address.  Curious, I opened it up and found a blank note card with a gift card in a large amount to a local big box store.  I was in shock!

My husband and I were puzzling over who could’ve sent this.  He thinks someone from our Sunday morning small group may have done it after I was joking about the beans and rice.  Sometimes we live like NO ONE else.  Granted, beans and rice aren’t our favorite meal, but they sustain us, we’ll eat it and no one goes to bed hungry.  Not once did we complain or grouse about what we were lacking; after all, we knew it wasn’t going to last.  We were grateful for what we had, and, as meager as it was, we knew it was so much more than many people have.  It felt funny being the object of someone’s charity, though we were grateful for it.  (We could actually buy meats that didn’t come from fowl or cows; we had a delicious roast pork shoulder for our Valentine’s dinner.)  Someone felt moved because we weren’t living at their standard of living and wanted to make that better.  It was very sweet of them to do so, but I don’t think we’re in need because we don’t keep up with our friends’ lifestyles.  After all, it costs a lot of money to keep up with the Joneses, and it’s not worth keeping up with their debts, too.

Say you were going to be receiving $5,000.00 to use however you’d like.  What would you do with it?

Free Money!

Just sounds good, doesn't it?

Cash back!  Making priceless memories!  Convenience of getting what you want when you want it!

Since beginning our journey toward financial peace,  I’ve become a lot more aware of credit card advertisements.  Ironically, when we’re supposed to be collecting credit card applications that we get through the mail – you know the ones I’m talking about; “You’ve been pre-approved!” – our mailbox is sadly bereft of them.  However, there are still plenty of advertisements for credit cards on TV with Discover being the current front-runner in frequency.

The credit card companies know exactly where to get you, don’t they?  Master Card is offering you priceless moments:

New Vera Wang wedding dress: $12,000.00

Florist: $6,000.00

Watching your irritating cousin looking like a crippled monkey trying to dance: Priceless

Ahh, the memories, and they can be yours if you’ll shell out a small fortune for your wedding day.

Then there’s Visa.  “It’s everywhere you want to be.”  Want seats on the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl?  Use your Visa card for a chance to win.  Of course, the more you use it, the better your chances.  Want to be cool at the grocery store?  Use your Visa card.  Want people not to look at you with annoyance while you’re writing a check?  Use your Visa card.  Convenience and coolness all in one.

Discover has been coming out with the catchiest and most prevalent commercials of late.  Who isn’t familiar with a bearded guy answering the phone, “Hello.  Thank you for calling US Prime Credit.  My name is Peggy.”  They can become annoying after you’ve seen the same commercial for the nineteenth time, but they’re funny because they’re so true.  Now Discover is trying to hook cardholders with “cash back.”  Ohhhhh boy!

Cash back???  You mean to tell me that I can get money – cash! – back on my purchases?  Oh my gosh, I’ll be getting FREE MONEY!!!  Let’s see…  I need a new 48″ flat screen TV.  That’s $1000.00.  And groceries for the month…  $300.00. Hmmmm…  I get cash back on fuel purchases, too, so I’ll put my gas on my Discover card.  After all, I’m getting cash back.  That comes to $350.00.  So, this month I’ve charged $1650.00.  That’s going to be a lot of cash!  That’s going to come up to… $26.50 cash back*.  Now I’ve charged over a thousand dollars I do not have and that I will be paying 20% interest on.  Next month, my credit card charges will be $1980.00 with that 20% interest rate.  What a great gimmick, though, isn’t it?!  Discover promises to pay 1-3% cash back, but they charge you 20% interest.  When looking at Alec Baldwin and a pretty convincing body double, who pays attention to that pesky fine print at the bottom of the screen?

Be smart about credit.  The smartest thing is, don’t use it.  Why charge stuff and risk having to pay interest on your purchases when you can save for them and pay cash?  At Financial Peace University, the goal is to learn to save up for the things you want to buy.  In fact, Dave Ramsey teaches that, when you pay cash for purchases, you can often times get by with paying less than the ticket price.  Let’s say you want to refurnish your living room.  You save up $3000.00 for your new living room furniture, which is priced at $3300.00.  If you walk in there with 30 pictures of Ben Franklin, chances are, you’ll get that furniture for $3000.00.  What many people don’t realize is, merchants have to pay for every single credit card transaction.  There’s normally a monthly fee for the privilege of accepting credit cards, plus there is a percentage-of-sale fee for every credit card transaction, on top of a flat per-transaction fee.  So, with all these fees merchants have to pay and the expenses associated with running credit cards, merchants can afford to accept a negotiated cash price – and you won’t have to pay high interest rates.  Win-win!

* At the time of this writing, Discover is offering 1% cash back on purchases, 2$ cash back on groceries and 3% cash back on fuel.